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Preventing a pandemic

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To demonstrate how a virus can spread, attendees of a zombie camp at ScienceWorks Hands-On Museum Tuesday were given six cups of clear fluid.

The campers — ages 10-14 — had a simple task: one poured their cup’s contents into another cup, and the other poured half back. Repeat.

Next, a separate fluid was administered to the now-mixed samples. Any that turned pink were considered infected. All but two of the six samples turned pink, an illustration of a high rate of transmission.

“Now it’s up to you guys,” camp leader Kylie Bridge said. “We’re going to be epidemiologists right now, and we’re going to try to figure out who was the source.”

The demonstration was just one of several games, experiments and projects the students will be exposed to this week at the science camp, which seeks to educate youth about the science of disease.

The camp, which runs through Friday, is the first of its kind, and ScienceWorks wants to make it a programming staple.

“ScienceWorks wanted to pilot a very immersive, interactive way to kind of get kids thinking about what we need to do to keep healthy,” said camp leader Ash Friend, “what causes the spread of diseases and ways we can protect ourselves. We were looking at what agencies like the CDC have used as an education method, and we thought that making an immersive kind of a simulation would be a good way to do it.”

It does this by dropping students into a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure-style scenario in which a scientist heads into a fictional Rogue Valley hot zone to investigate reports of “zombie flu.” Campers, working out of “McLoughlin Base” — a McLoughlin Middle School classroom — must try to prevent the disease from growing into a pandemic. Students receive daily video briefings from him as he works inside the hot zone, and campers’ actions and decisions on previous days affect how he fares. So far, so good.

“It sounded really fun, and I really like science and zombies,” Mason McLane, 10, said of the camp. “They’re fascinating.”

So far, campers have made protective gear to shield themselves from bites, done experiments illustrating disease transmission, and have started brainstorming a public education campaign on how to notify citizens about the disease without sending them into a full-blown panic. There are plenty of additional projects, too.

“I’m making a video game about how to be prepared when a zombie apocalypse comes,” said Ramona McCurdy, 11. “The tips you can learn to survive.”

The zombie angle was intended to make the science-focused event more fun for youth.

“They’re looking at it as zombies, but I look at it as public health,” Bridge said. “This is a very real-world type of situation, just with a fun twist.”

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at rpfeil@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4468.

Jamie Lusch / Ashland Tidings Linus Ruby, 10, and Tai Winiata, 13, react to a experiment during Zombie Camp at McLoughlin Middle School on Tuesday.
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